Small Firm VS Big Firm
When applying for law firm risk and compliance jobs, do you avoid small law firms and feel drawn towards big names and high revenue? If you do, you’re not alone!
Many aspiring professionals fall into the trap of thinking large law firms mean bigger and better opportunities, and others are sucked in by the prestige and status of top tier international firms.
In the world of law firm risk and compliance, sometimes the fastest way to the top can be avoiding big-name firms early on in your career.
When starting your career in law firm risk and compliance, the most important thing in the early stages is learning and exposure. Picking up as much new experience as possible should be at the forefront of your mind until you have really progressed up the ranks.
It’s easy to assume that a role at a big law firm would equate to more exposure and that a role at a small law firm would mean a narrower role, but this isn’t usually the case.
In a small law firm, you’ll likely be in a small team, and therefore you’re probably going to work closely with a senior manager or director of that team. You could be acting as their assistant or number two and getting a huge amount of exposure supporting them in their day-to-day work, even if you are just starting out in your career. At a really large firm, there could be four or five levels between you and that senior person, so it’s likely that your role will be more process-driven and you won’t have much access to the bigger picture.
When new regulations are introduced, the SRA announces a rule change or a new piece of legislation is created, at a big firm there’ll probably be a dedicated team of lawyers to deal with it, whereas at a small firm, you might get a chance to look at it, or even give your opinion.
In a small team, in addition to your day-to-day compliance-related duties like CDD and conflicts checks, you’ll probably have the chance to do bits of auditing, assist with professional indemnity insurance renewals, and more. In a large team, these tasks will all be handled by a separate team and they won’t ever cross your desk.
A smaller firm could mean a smaller volume of new matters and clients. For a junior compliance professional, this means your role may also cover operational risk, rather than just AML and conflicts. At a large, international firm, you probably wouldn’t get close to that kind of thing until later in your career. Exposure to a wider range of things a law firm needs to maintain compliance like policies and procedures and staff training is absolutely invaluable for any aspiring compliance professional.
While it may be true that opportunities for promotion may be harder to come by in a small team, don’t let this put you off. You could assume that a promotion would be unavailable until the person above you leaves, but this isn’t always the case. Even if it is, there’s still so much to learn from them while you are there, and you’ll soon be ready to take a step up at a new firm. No one expects you to stay at one firm for your entire career, and as you have a legitimate reason for wanting to move on, your CV shouldn't be perceived as ‘jumpy’. A good recruiter can help you explain your moves to a potential employer!
In risk and compliance, it’s normal for professionals to learn and progress by moving firms and being exposed to different types of clients, matters, jurisdictions, firm profiles, risk appetites, etc, and it’s okay to move on once you’ve learned everything you can from a role. Even if you started at a big firm, you’d usually have to wait a year for a promotion anyway, so you’re on the same track either way.
Small law firms could have a lot to teach you, so don't write them off in your job search!
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